My place lies at the foot of the South Downs National Park in Southern England, with its unique blend of biodiverse landscape, vibrant towns and sleepy villages. The park extends for 1,600 km2 from Winchester to Eastbourne along the south coast, snaking its way through my home county of West Sussex.
West Sussex is densely wooded with beech hangers, woodland gills and ancient deer parks at Parham and Petworth, where the autumn rut is played out in spectacular fashion; the clash of antlers and the bellowing of deer rolling across the parkland. For me, woods are
magical places. Childhood and woodland are inextricably linked and I look back on long days, swishing through ankle deep leaves, climbing steep moss covered banks, searching for badger setts and rabbit holes.
One of my favourite ‘wild’ poems is Owl by the English poet Alice Oswald. When I read it, it takes me back to my parents’ garden, where I listened at night for hedgehogs and wood mice and anything else that happened to be passing through. I loved standing there and feeling the world open up as I strained my ears to hear the shuffle of feet amongst the fallen leaves of the beech and the old sycamore. Some of my best memories are closely tied to that 100 foot long space, where my parents grew raspberries and blackberries and cheerful looking
I still love the anticipation before an animal appears; that feelin of time stretching and expanding at the corners. The sense of privilege in witnessing an event which few are aware of as they go about their daily grind. Recently in the woods at dusk, I heard Tawny Owls, tantalisingly close, yet ‘miles away, more than a world beyond this room.’* As their soft call filled the air I once again entered the secret world that I had loved so much as a child.
That is my place.
*Owl by Alice Oswald